24 August 2009

Save the Date!

I'll defend my prospectus on Wednesday, September 16th, at 2:00 p.m. All congratulations or condolences can be sent to 310 McClung Tower.

What's a Text? And Who Cares?

A good weekend all around. Husband had a bike race in Chattanooga, and later that evening, I crashed into a sign warning people to watch out for baby deer. In the middle of the fun, Jonathan Potter reminded me that so many scholars are still firmly entrenched in antiquated definitions of text.

If discourse analysis is the systematic and rigorous study of language in use, and if consumers are tending towards imagistic symbol trading, then why isn't DA getting on board with less traditional types of analysis? According to Potter, "While we can watch television with the sound turned down, and flick through the daily newspaper looking just at the pictures, our entertainment and cultural life is massively dependent on what the actors are saying and what the newspaper stories tell" (2007, p. 607). DA has fought for legitimacy alongside other qualitative methods (though DA seems to carry more signs of quantitative than other approaches), and considering this status, it seems that practitioners should look outside the borders of what constitutes a text and what constitutes discourse (and who gets to say). Can we conduct a discourse-based analysis on an exchange of images? How about discourse that is text on one end (English 101 syllabus) and oral on the other (student's impression of 101 syllabus). Must both parties be able to "speak back" in real time to constitute discourse? (Yes, in most definition of DA there must be an interlocator and a perlocator, as dialog is exchanged.) What about our discussion in class on using video?

So the field moves slowly in accepting definitions of text, much like it does in its definitions of academic texts. For example, I am interested in ethnopoetics and its inclusion in my dissertation. Gee's method as outlined in Burck ("Comparing qualitative research methodologies for systemic research: The use of grounded theory, discourse analysis, and narrative analysis) offers ethnopoetics as just another mode of analysis (REMINDER: get Gee article before prospectus defense). However, I see ethnopoetics as a viable product of analysis, not simply a tool for reckoning.

This is where my opinion differs from that of a number of hiring committee's. The single-author text is still the "best" kind, according to a kind-of-recent MLA article. But I see what we produce in classes such as 531 and also as production of Discourse Analysis and Narrative Analysis as collaborative, reciprocal in many cases, and polyvocal (as through the use of narrative and ethnopoetics).

If we can't change our departments, how can we work toward building a subfield that makes room for these kinds of texts? Maybe it's only in English that the single author is still the only author of consequence.

17 August 2009

Day 1: Or Day Minus 1: Before the Fall

Before the fall of the year, that is. Not, you know, the other fall.

Anyway, I've started this blog because I've also started my dissertation, which will be a narrative inquiry into the experiences of first-generation women from Appalachia in the first-year writing classroom. Random modifiers? No! From my experience teaching first-year students and from the research (esp. Pascarella's How College Affects Students), the first year is a watershed moment in a young adult's life. As such, I'd like to explore how these women from a stereotypically "traditional" region of the United States work to incorporate the more "progressive" views of higher education, as they are filtered through the writing classroom.

But why writing?

1) At the University of Tennessee where I teach, FYC is one of the smallest first-year classes around. History of Rock, for example, has upwards of 500 students. We are capped at 23.

2) Students are often asked to redefine or more firmly define their worldviews in English 101 and 102 through critical thinking and critical writing exercises.

3) The FYC class offers a diversity of students, which would bring into relief "contact zones," via Pratt, especially if I consider my first-gen women as coming from smaller, enclave communities in Appalachia. (However, Knoxville is considered more urban, and the idea of the Urban Appalachian is almost as much of a myth as the idea of the Appalachian Academic.)

But why a blog?

The purpose for this blog is twofold:
1) I wish to reflect on my researcher standpoint throughout the process. This metacognition is advocated by many qualitative researchers, such as Watt (2007).

2) I am taking a class--Educational Psychology: Discourse Analysis in Educational Environments--this fall and must keep a research blog about my findings for class.

I have made contact with the Vice Provost at UT, who I consulted with back in March. Her dissertation was also a narrative study of first-generation Appalachian students, so I feel that I have many points of entry. I've ordered the digital voice recorder. I've purchased filing cabinets. I've warned my officemates that stacks of paper will soon appear in South Stadium Hall 331.

I'd be lying, however, if I didn't admit to some nervousness about the scale of the project. A few times, I've caught myself wishing I'd chosen a straight text-based diss to simply the process. But my heart is in qualitative inquiry, and I have to go into this project believing that the rewards outweigh the risks. So a mantra: It's worth the stress. It's worth the worry. It's worth the stress. It's worth the worry.

It's on, narrative inquiry. It's on.